Toyota relaunches Prius online

And other news in Greater China

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BEIJING--Toyota Corp. hopes to spur sales of its environmentally friendly Prius car in China with a new website, www.prius.com.cn, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, Beijing, which established an interactive division earlier this year.

Toyota introduced Prius in China in January 2006, but sales have been sluggish. Imported cars are heavily taxed in China, so the sticker price of a Prius in China is much higher than a similar model would cost in markets where the car has sold well, such as Japan and the U.S. The price for a basic Prius in the U.S. is $20,950.

Also, the original communications strategy for Prius was based on the functions and benefits of a hybrid car, an advanced strategy for a country still in the early stages of environmental awareness. The Japanese car company deduced that Chinese understand the benefits of a Prius on a rational basis but they do not connect on the emotional level.

"Who wants to care for the future when everything is so focused on getting rich now? As a result, they focus on rational reasons for not buying Prius such as the high price or small size compared to other similarly priced cars," said Gentaro Makinoda, account director at Saatchi & Saatchi, Beijing.

The new online campaign “steps back to educate consumers first, so they know they are buying the future, not just a car, to make it worth the premium cost," he added. With tips about how to make the world better, the website allows Chinese “to feel like they are giving something back to next generation, and that buying a Prius is being part of global movement. "

The site contains a carbon dioxide simulator, which consumers can use to calculate how much CO2, a greenhouse gas, their house emits, with tips about how to reduce emissions. Another section lets visitors make a public pledge about steps they can take to help the environment and read other pledges, such as taking public transport to work rather than driving.

When the site has received one million pledges, Toyota plans to respond with a significant community contribution, such as planting one million trees or flowering plants, but the exact act has not been determined yet. The site launched on Aug. 15, and will run at least one year. Toyota is promoting it with print ads as well as banner ads on other Chinese websites.

In the U.S., the Prius made up 40% of hybrid car sales last year. Production ramped up after demand for the eco-friendly car led to waiting lists, and U.S. Prius sales through July 2007 reached 110,565, up from 59,270 for the first seven months of 2006.


Dispute over Olympic online advertising continues
BEIJING--The dispute over online advertising by Olympic sponsors continues to grow. This week, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) publicly supported claims by Sohu.com, a major Chinese web portal and the official internet partner for the 2008 games in Beijing, stating that local sponsors can only run Olympic-related ads online in China on Sohu.com.

The situation remains somewhat unclear for marketers and the final outcome is likely to evolve further in the coming weeks, but at this point, “only on Sohu.com can local [i.e.sponsors only within mainland China] Olympic sponsors [of the 2008 games] use the Beijing 2008 logo, or associate themselves directly with the Olympics. Beijing 2008 Olympics sponsors on Sina.com [for example] cannot use any of the logos or associate with the games in any way,” said Bharadwaj Ramesh, a Singapore-based regional director, Asia/Pacific at MindShare. Until recently, he was the GroupM agency's national tactical planning director for China, based in Beijing.

“Sohu is rightly concerned that Olympics sponsors will not invest a majority of their budgets into its website as the online Olympics coverage exclusivity is not guaranteed. This rule should help them secure budgets," said Mr. Ramesh. But, he added, "Olympics advertisers can easily get around this rule by advertising right next to the Sina.com coverage of the games."

BOCOG’s decision follows the revelation last month that at least three rival Chinese internet companies--web portals Sina.com and NetEase (163.com) and popular instant message service provider Tencent--formed a partnership to jointly cover the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Their alliance instantly became a major threat to Sohu, which is supposed to enjoy significant advantages over competing web sites, such as first rights, exclusive participation in some official events and first access to Olympics information, through its partnership with BOCOG.

Local Olympic sponsors are not enthusiastic about the restriction, however, which does not apply to global sponsors such as Coca-Cola Co., Visa International and McDonald’s Corp.

"It makes sense with Sohu being the official Olympic site," said Quinn Taw, Beijing-based exec director of China Media Exchange, the holding company of Publicis Groupe's media agencies in China such as ZenithMedia, Optimedia and Starcom. "On the other hand, as the Olympics nears, I'd think that local Olympic sponsors might tend to really make the most of all the money they spent to secure local sponsorship."


Clutter grows as Olympics grow closer; Coke leads brand awareness among Chinese
BEIJING--Clutter continues to be a major challenge for Olympic sponsors, as the Aug. 8, 2008, starting date to the Olympic Games in Beijing grows closer.

“With 56 official sponsors, and almost as many other companies looking to be involved, plain vanilla marketing won’t work over the next 400 days,” said Greg Paull, principal of the Beijing-based marketing consultancy, R3, which tracks the performance of Olympic sponsors. “We are continuing to see marketers innovate their product mix to cut through.”

The Chinese brewer and Olympic sponsor Tsingtao, for example, has launched a new beer brand in the mainland called “Sporty.” Other sponsors such as the Chinese appliance manufacturer Haier, Eastman Kodak Co., Swatch Group, owner of the Omega watch brand, Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group, and Chinanetwork Communications Group Corp. have also added Olympic-themed items to their product portfolios in China this summer in addition to increased ad spending.

“In the last three months, the main Olympic sponsors and their active competitors spent over $922 million in measured media, more than any other quarter in our tracking,” said Matt Brosenne, Beijing-based international client services director of CSM Media Research, which is working with R3. “And this does not include the vast investments in field marketing and other areas not tracked. The Olympics is proving to be a big bet for major players.”

Coca-Cola Co. was the best performer in the latest wave of a study conducted by R3 and CSM called the OP Index. The OP Index measures brand performance in awareness (brand correctly mentioned as sponsor), purchase intent (brand is more likely to be purchased as a result of sponsorship), promotional impact (brand’s Olympic messages have made a positive impact) and brand association (brand is appropriately aligned with the Olympic ideals).

Survey results are based on interviews with 1,500 Chinese conducted during the past three months in ten Chinese cities, and the benchmark is weighted from the first wave of research conducted in July 2006. The next wave of results will be complete in April 2007.

Two Chinese dairy companies, Mengniu and Yili, are in close pursuit of Coke’s dominant position, however, while Mars brand Snickers and United Parcel Service were the two fastest movers in the latest wave of the study, added Mr. Brosenne. “Mengniu has leveraged [its partnership with the National Basketball Association] and soccer well, along with a unique sports reality program sponsorship. All this together has helped keep them top of mind.”

The Torch Relay also had an important impact in this research, particularly for companies such as Lenovo, Samsung and Coca-Cola that are heavily invested in the relay program.

“The Torch Relay will be the greatest ground event in China’s history, touching more than 100 million people in China,” said Mr. Paull. “Coca-Cola continues to lead among the people we interviewed, because they have truly developed a complete integrated marketing approach, heavily led by digital activity such as iCoke.cn.”


McDonald's unveils new Olympic program
BEIJING--McDonald’s Corp. has launched the latest wave of its Olympic program in China, McDonald’s Champion Kids, in Beijing. The program will enable up to 300 children from around the world to travel to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where they will be able to attend some sporting events, meet Olympic athletes, visit cultural sights and interact with kids from around the world.

On Aug. 9, China became the first country to promote the McDonald’s Champion Kids program in its restaurants. Chinese children can submit entry forms to qualify and will be selected based on their level of physical activity, their knowledge of Olympic Games trivia, and their communication, presentation and interaction skills. Other countries around the world will launch their local activation plans throughout the year leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games.


Kappa sponsors MTV series to find top street dancer in China
BEIJING--The Italian sports apparel marketer, Kappa, will sponsor MTV Dance To Kill, a dance competition series seeking the best street dancer in China. The series will be co-produced by MTV Networks Asia and Chongqing Satellite TV, one of the mainland’s provincial broadcasters.

“As a type of sports dance, street dance is becoming increasingly popular in China at all levels,” said Beijing-based Li Yifei, MTV’s executive VP-managing director, China. It has emerged “as something that young people love because its style is energetic, improvisational and encourages originality and interactions with others.”

Auditions will be held in six major cities-- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Wuhan and Harbin--to search for 60 participants. Hosted by Taiwanese hip-hop star Jeffrey Kung, the weekly series will be broadcast to 142 million households in the mainland through MTV 24-hr channel Mandarin-language channel and Chongqing Satellite TV, starting in mid-September.

Viewers can help determine the winners of various stages through SMS and online voting at www.mtvchina.com. The finals will take place in Beijing in January 2008. The winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S., including a meeting with pop star Justin Timberlake.

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